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Sunday, October 30, 2011

More on Books as Objects—and One Important Book on the Subject

. . .The book as artifact occupies the most tenuous and complex position, perhaps, of all the items made by the human hand: it is at once treasured and cavalierly interfered with on a whim.

- Julia Miller, Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings (Legacy Press, 2010)

In my line of work, I have opportunities to become acquainted with experts in many fascinating fields, including (but not limited to) agricultural methods and practice, legal precedent and case study, medical research, natural science—and, of course, books. When it comes to the history of bookbinding, its materials and techniques, I am fortunate to count among my annual bookstore visitors and customers Julia Miller of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan Library. Julia has been coming to vacation in the Northport area for years and once included a volume she purchased from Dog Ears Books in an exhibition (she was the curator) called “Suave Mechanicals: Early to Modern Binding Styles.” But it has been only since the publication of her Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings, published by Legacy Press in 2010, that I am beginning to have a glimmering of the depth and breadth of Julia’s expertise.

Books Will Speak Plain [hereafter referred to as BWSP] is a treasure trove. It is, moreover, while perfectly contemporary, itself an example of a book as a beautiful object, the object as exquisite as the text. But before getting into the book itself, I want to linger on the dust jacket and what it teaches me about the book’s author. Let me quote a few lines:
Julia Miller has worked in the book conservation field for thirty years. She . . . joined the staff of the Conservation and Book Repair Unit at the University of Michigan Library, spending ten years there. Over the past decade, she has been researching the history of binding structure and style, and in 2008 to prepare the manuscript for this book, she was awarded the prestigious Samuel H. Kress Conservation Publication Fellowship, administered through the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation.

. . .In 2009, she was invited to join the team that conducted the conservation survey of the manuscripts in the Coptic Museum in Cairo, Egypt. In the fall of 2010, she was a research fellow at The Library Company in Philadelphia, where she studied bindings in that collection as part of a project to develop a typology for American scaleboard bindings.

The publisher’s introduction is not the way I came to know Julia. Our conversations in my bookstore over the years have been much more casual. And as is true of so many experts, particularly women, she does not enter a room trumpeting her expertise and knowledge. Now, with her book in hand, I can appreciate much more fully her appreciation of my bookstore: I am thrilled that she occasionally finds objects on my shelves that she “must have” for her private collection!

Someone recently wrote to me that she was trying to look at the world through my eyes. Well, whenever I have spent time with BWSP, I find myself looking at old books with new eyes, paying much more attention to physical details. This, for me, is the gift BWSP brings. I will never have the patience or devotion to become expert myself in historical bindings, but even glimpses into the field deepen and enrich my feeling for these beloved objects of mine.

Part of Dr. Miller’s motivation in writing BWSP was to make up, for others in the field, for the lack of training she herself had when starting out, and so the first four chapters detail the history of the handmade codex up to 1900, with Chapter 5 “identifying Binding Materials and Application.” When and why the codex became preeminent over earlier roll manuscripts sets the stage for the history that follows:
. . .Theories have been advanced that the early Christians made a conscious decision to use the codex to differentiate themselves from the pagan tradition of papyrus roll and wooden tablet, or that the early Christians realized it was cheaper to write on both sides of the papyrus or parchment. . . .

What we know simply as a book was a technological advancement when it first appeared—as Miller notes, easier to use, easier to store, and more easily referenced than its technological predecessors. Materials used for text pages and for binding, as well as binding methods, have undergone many changes in the complex history of the codex, but the basic form of the book has been remarkable for its longevity. BWSP is richly illustrated throughout, both with photographs and drawings. Chapter 5 in particular presents a rich section of color plates.

Chapter 6 introduces the author’s second motivation in writing this book. The chapter title is “Describing Historical Bindings—a Template for Action.” Miller recommends that collection surveys be undertaken with a well-designed survey form, “patience, careful eyes, gentle handling, knowledge. . ., understanding,” and “visual aids.” She believes that special collections should be catalogued with detailed physical descriptions as well as content descriptions, since the physical book carries its history with it, and there is no guarantee that this history will be preserved unless attention is brought to bear on it. Photography, Miller explains, is no substitute for detailed description, and the best description is safest when accompanied by detailed drawings, documenting book structure and the way its elements work together.
. . .Photographing historical bindings reassures us, but only a thorough look at the item can reveal many of its secrets, and even the most clearly written description will lose its application as it is read by different people with different training backgrounds at different time periods.

Books Will Speak Plain is a unique, invaluable and indispensable reference work for anyone who cares about historic bookbinding. It brings together historic and conservation information not previously available in a single volume. Appended materials include sample survey suggestions and description case studies; assessment guidelines; an excellent glossary; bibiography; and index.

The author’s impassioned plea for description and preservation of historic bindings will surely find an attentive audience among readers of the work. Finally, as I mentioned near the beginning of this post, it’s a beautiful book. I cannot spend more than half an hour at a time with it, or I grow dangerously overexcited.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Our Most Recent Gift from Poet Jim Harrison

My friend Helen at the books, books, books blog wrote recently about books as objects, her point being that there is more to a book than text. I’m sure Helen would not disagree that for those of us who love books, many various aspects—physical, literary, aesthetic and incidental—go into the object we love, and I bring this up because Helen originally wrote of old books, and then she and I and other readers subsequently made the segue, in the comments section following her post, into a discussion of new books as objects and what various people still find valuable in bound, printed volumes. And now this week I have in hand the latest volume of poetry by Jim Harrison, Songs of Unreason. It’s a new book, fresh from the warehouse, and I hold it like some sacred object saturated with meaning that begins but does not end with the printed words inside.

Most books of poetry are “slim” volumes. The last poem in this book is on page 141. The dust jacket is shiny and smooth, except for the top half of the front cover, with its reproduction of the painting “Summer Storm” by Russell Chatham. Fingers slip and glide on the smooth area and are slowed by the texture of the illustrated portion.

Opening any physical book, a codex, one sees two pages at once. An editorial decision was made with Songs of Unreason to present one long poem, “Suite of Unreason,” in small stanzas on the lefthand pages. Thus turning each page takes the reader on the one hand (left) further into “Suite of Unreason” and on the other hand (right) presents a separate new poem.

Text. Words. Would they be the same to me if I read them on a screen? I don’t even know if the words on the paper leaves I turn in this printed book are the “same” when read by anyone else. Someone in Montana who has never known northern Michigan? Someone in Paris who knows America only by reputation? None of that matters to me. I hold the book and turn the pages and read the poems and catch my breath and am carried me far beyond the present moment, outside the small indoor space I occupy as I read.

This book is not one gift but many. Every poem, every page, every line is a gift from the poet to us. How can I express my gratitude except to acknowledge the gift and to close with a stanza from “Suite of Unreason,” one near the end of the book:
The body wins another little argument
with doom. You wake to a crisp, clear morning
and you’re definitely not dead. The golden light
flows down the mountain across the creek. A little vodka
and twelve hours of sleep. Nature detonates your mind
with the incalculable freshness of the new day.

Thank you, Jim. The rest of you, go buy yourself a copy of this book, and that way you will have it to re-read—and to hold!--for the rest of your life.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Vacation Dreaming

When I was very young, the word vacation meant two things. First it meant the no-school period between Memorial Day and Labor Day we knew as “summer vacation.” After vacation we returned to school in the next-higher grade. Then there was “going on vacation,” which for my family was always, every year, either riding the train or driving U.S. 30 on our way from Illinois to Ohio to visit grandparents. We didn’t rent lake cottages (let alone have one of our own) or drive out West to visit national monuments. We took the vacation that fit my parents’ budget. And my sisters and I had no complaints. We looked forward to our Ohio trips.

The summer I was 12, however, our horizons opened up considerably. My father and mother borrowed a big old heavy canvas “umbrella” tent, and we had our first family camping vacation, and our destination was the state park north of Muskegon, Michigan. It rained all week, as I recall. My mother had, it seemed, as much housework as she would have had at home. My sisters and I carried endless buckets of water and explored the campground under umbrellas. But somehow we all had a good time, and it was the beginning of an annual tradition.

One year we camped all the way down to Florida and another time as far as the Black Hills in my birth state of South Dakota. But every year there was at least one week in Michigan.

Camping is more elaborate for most families these days than the old umbrella tent our family slept in that first year. Motor homes and RVs predominate. Even tent camping has changed a lot, with lightweight tents that go up quickly and have outside frames rather than those heavy old poles that campers had to maneuver around inside when I was young. Among the more “rustic” campers there are more doing bicycle tours than when I was a kid. But one thing hasn’t changed, and that is that camping is a budget-friendly way to vacation.

The popularity of Michigan as a vacation destination is nothing new, but we’ve seen in recent years a resurgence in state residents taking vacations closer to home, as well as vacationers from neighboring Midwest states coming here rather than going farther afield. As Americans tighten their financial belts in these difficult and uncertain economic times, vacation for a lot of families is starting to look more and more like my childhood vacations. Visiting relatives and camping are coming back into vogue. And along with those simpler vacations come simple pleasures, such as walks on the beach, sitting around campfires, hiking, biking, and reading.

All this is on my mind because right here in Leelanau Township there used to be a family campground on the shore of Grand Traverse Bay. It was called Timber Shores. “Ah, you shoulda been here then!” one elderly shopkeeper used to say to me as she recalled those “glory days” of business in Northport The closing of that campground spelled the beginning of hard times for the village.

But here’s the thing. The land is still there, 450 beautiful acres with 1600 feet of pristine shoreline. In recent years two proposed developments of high-density condominiums, each plan featuring a big golf course, man-made lake and yacht basin—two developments proposed since I’ve had my bookshop in Northport—have gone nowhere. Thank heaven, I say. There are enough vacant condos on the market already. There are plenty of houses for sale, too. Real estate supply is way ahead of demand these days everywhere in the country.

But campsites? There the demand outruns the supply in our neck of the woods.

We have beautiful Leelanau State Park at the tip of the peninsula, and to the south we have the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. There are a couple of well-established private campgrounds on Lake Leelanau and one new private RV park in the county. And still more campers arrive and have to be turned away.

Many people would like to see Timber Shores returned to campground, and it’s beginning to sound very much like a live option. Supporters come from old families in the area as well as newcomers, retired people as well as those in business, all concerned that such beautiful land be preserved for public recreatioal use, all seeing the “highest, best use” in the kind of low-impact development that would benefit the area financially while welcoming families on vacation. I won’t go into the various ways the campground development might be financed or run. That remains to be seen. I will say that “continued maintenance,” cited by one opponent as an argument against the campground, spells J-O-B-S when looked at in another light. We worry how to attract young families to our area? How to keep young people from leaving when they finish school? J-O-B-S is the answer.

Do dreams come true? Might this one? If so, the economic bust that killed the condo proposals would have a happy ending for one beautiful piece of Michigan land and its nearby residents.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Playing Catch-Up or Running in Place?

October seems to be going on and on, delightfully, and at the same time it is hurrying by. This is the last week, and what have I done with the beautiful month?

I have read two ARCs of novels in the past week and am now embarked on a book I must review very soon. Still have not started The Lacuna yet (I’m pretty good at meeting deadlines, but any more I cut them pretty close) but have picked up two or three other books and dipped into them, feeling guilty as I did so and doing it, anyway. What are these guilty pleasures? Oh, there’s Raymond Chandler, for one. Not one to be kept awake by the whodunit question, I find it easy to fall asleep over Raymond Chandler. And now there’s A Bintel Brief: Sixty Years of Letters from the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward, the letters beginning in 1906. This edited volume of years of the famous advice column is a microcosm of the immigrant experience. Somehow, also, when reading it I don’t feel that one hundred years ago is such a long time, either.
I get up at four in the morning to huhnt for a job through the newspaper. I have no money for carfare, so I go on foot, but by the time I get to the place there are hundreds before me.

The writer of this letter knows how to run an iron milling machine, how to drive horses and train colts, he served in the cavalry in Russia, but he can find no work in New York.
If I had known it would be so bitter for me here, I wouldn’t have come. I didn’t come here for a fortune, but where is bread? What can I do now?

But life is not all reading. My raspberry-blackberry jam is made, and I got eight little jars out of berries picked and frozen many weeks ago. Now, will I get out to pick elderberries this week or lose that season once again this year? And why is the elderberry season such a will-o’-the-wisp, anyway? Now you see it, now you don’t. Elderberries, vinegar, sugar, sugar, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, cayenne—voilĂ ! Elderberry catsup!

When I looked up that recipe for a wild game condiment, one I made many years ago in one of my cherished old cookbooks, Going Wild in the Kitchen, I stumbled on the instructions for pickled nasturtium seeds. “Pick the seeds when fully developed but before they become hard,” then brine overnight and process in jars with boiling vinegar. Maybe this is why I haven’t yet pulled out the nasturtiums and incorporated the rotting straw bales into the garden soil for next year! I need to pickle the nasturtium seeds!

Then there’s the project soon to be unveiled on this site that will announce a new partnership between Dog Ears Books and a local cause in which we strongly believe. Soon, but not quiet yet. Details are being worked out, which to say that I and others are working on details. Sigh! No, the details don’t work themselves out, though wouldn’t it be great if they did?

Meetings, meetings—how did I get involved in so many meetings? Here’s another one coming up on Wednesday morning. Sarah’s a bit disgusted by this turn of events and longing for January and my shortened winter work week, when we will both have plenty of time at home to play in the snow.

Is that really what we’ll be doing in January? We’ll see. For now, let the little dog dream. What can it hurt? I’m dreaming, too. It gives me the courage to keep my nose to the grindstone for now.

And meanwhile, what of the wild grapes? Surely something can be made of them, too?
The fruit of the wild grape is of exceptional flavor. It makes a delicious tart jelly and can be made into wine as well.

Some books are for learning, some are for escape, some for guilty pleasure, and some are obviously guilt-inducing. What will you choose to read during the last days of October?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ask Me About the West Michigan Pike

We’ve got a lot of fall color left here Up North and a sunny Saturday forecast for tomorrow. It’s amazing there are leaves left on the trees at all, after several days of high winds, but leaves there are—red, yellow, brown, toast- and plum-colored and, yes, even green still--telling us that fall is not over by a long shot.

Speaking of shots, my leading photo image above was taken on one of my favorite back roads near home. Life in the slow lane is my chosen life, but what if all roads up from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and downstate Michigan were nothing but “serpentine sand trails through barren wilderness, rutted dirt pathways and thin gravel-covered roads”? Try to imagine that, and then imagine the improvement in travel meant by the advent of a good gravel road from Chicago to the Straits!

A new book by M. Chrstine Byron and Thomas R. Wilson is a kind of scrapbook of those early days along Lake Michigan’s eastern shore, back when vacationing in a car was a new thing. The new way of travel was called motor touring, and it began before the advent of numbered highways or even what we think of as highways at all, so when the good road was built between Chicago and the Straits of Mackinac (there would be no bridge for several more decades), motorists had cause for celebration. Ernest Hemingway wrote from Horton Bay to his pals back in Evanston that they could expect to make the trip on the new good road in “less than three days”!

The new road, born without a number, had something better. It had a name. It was called the West Michigan Pike. Ask a dozen people if they know anything about the West Michigan Pike. Fewer people remember this name than know of the Old Dixie Highway, of which the West Michigan Pike became the northernmost stretch. (The section of the West Michigan Pike through Illinois is the road I grew up knowing as the Lincoln Highway.)

Imagine what an adventure it would have been to start out from Chicago and drive north along the shore of Lake Michigan in 1922! How many times would the driver expect to stop for a flat tire, do you suppose? In those days that meant taking the tire off the rim, patching it and remounting it, but the new road was probably easier on tires than the old rocky, sandy trails had been, and gas stations and repair garages quickly sprang up along its length. The subtitle, after all, of Vintage Views Along the West Michigan Pike, M. Christine Byron and Thomas R Wilson (a.k.a. Christine and Tom) is From Sand Trails to U.S. 31. Big difference!

The book shows familiar Lake Michigan resort towns in earlier days when Northport, I note, touted itself as “the niftiest town on the pike” and the “Friendly Town on the northeast tip.” A friend of mine from Spring Lake found one of the old concrete mileposts in a farmer’s field. All the illustrations from this Vintage Views book (one of Byron and Wilson’s earlier books was Vintage Views of Leelanau County) are taken from period postcards, travel posters and advertising circulars, each page inviting close scrutiny and lingering enjoyment. The vision behind the West Michigan Pike Association, all but forgotten, is made vivid and fascinating by Byron and Wilson’s newest work.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Good Reading Weather; Oasis; Sad Loss

Complaining about rain and cold would not bring warm sunshine, so I’m looking on the bright side of this week’s wet, dreary stretch. It is indeed good reading weather, and, as always, I have a lot of reading to do.

One book waiting on my bedside stack is Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna. A small reading group together for many years now chose that for our second book of the season, and the group meets right after Thanksgiving. But that gives me some time, right? I don’t have to get into this book immediately. I’m very curious and interested in it, however, as people I know who have read it—or part of it before bailing out—have had such very different responses. It seems to be a book readers either hate or love.

Recently I received an advance reading copy of The Book of Lost Fragrances, by M. J. Rose, and am devouring chapters of that whenever time permits this week. The publishers were not kidding when they described it as “a novel of suspense”! Set in Egypt, New York, Paris and the south of France, the story also ranges across time, from the French Revolution to our own day. Is Griffin’s reappearance in her life a dream come true for Jac, or does it portend nightmare? Are Jac’s visions psychotic episodes, memories of past lives, or is she merely extremely suggestible? Is she really (this is the point I reached in the story last night) going to search for her brother in the catacombs beneath the city of Paris, 100 feet below ground, long ago sealed off and illegal to explore? And what of the other mysterious young woman hoping to rise to a man’s position of power in the Triad by helping the Chinese nationalists frustrate Tibetans’ traditional manner of finding a successor to the Dalai Lama? There is that danger to Robbie lurking in the background, too. The plot is complex, but it is fast-moving and absorbing. One thing I haven’t mentioned at all is the search for an ancient and elusive perfume, a search that ties all the subplots together. And in keeping with the perfume theme is the way the author notes not only what the characters are seeing and hearing at any given moment but also what their sense of smell brings them, as well as the associations different aromas and odors bring. It is unusual for a novel to make so much of our oldest, strongest and most powerful sense, and I am enjoying this aspect of the story every bit as much as the settings and the suspense. Fragrance is the only part of this novel that would not translate to cinematic interpretation.

Another book I began reading on Tuesday begs not to have its pages turned too quickly. The Sabbath, by Abraham Joshua Heschel, creates for the reader a wondrous island of thoughtful calm, beginning on the very first page. The essential difference between time and space brings Henri Bergson’s philosophy to my mind. Bergson would have appreciated this book, I know.
The primitive mind finds it hard to realize an idea without the aid of imagination, and it is the realm of space where imagination wields its sway.


We are all infatuated with the splendor of space, with the grandeur of things in space. Thing is a category that lies heavy on our minds, tyrannizing all our thoughts....

Indeed, we know what to do with space but do not know what to do about time, except to make it subservient to space. Most of us seem to labor for the sake of things of space. As a result we suffer from a deeply rooted dread of time and stand aghast when compelled to look into its face.

Even our thinking of time, as Bergson famously observed and as Heschel is well aware, is deformed by being spatialized. The purpose of the Sabbath, Heschel tells us, is to leave behind our obsession with the things of space and to build a palace in time where we can become attuned to holiness in time. The word that comes to my mind here is oasis. If you prefer to identify your oasis in the desert of space as meditation rather than the Sabbath, a daily rather than a weekly shift from schedule to eternity—if this better fits your system of belief and practice, it is doubtless better to have the oasis than not. Another appropriate word is harbor.
In the tempestuous oceans of time and toil there are islands of stillness where man may enter a harbor and reclaim his dignity.

For days I have been struggling with how to acknowledge and recognize the loss of someone many in Northport remember. Jay Farr ventured outside the protected harbor in the terrible winds on Saturday to move his anchored sailboat closer to shore. He succeeded in his objective but did not regain the shore safely. He was one of three boaters in our area lost to recent waves. Everyone who shops at Tom’s Market in Northport remembers Jay. He had a ready smile and a cheery greeting for all.

And now I think I’ll wait until another day to tell you about new books in my bookstore. Today doesn’t seem like the right day for that. Please remain safely in harbor, friends, as our autumn gales continue! Do not go out on Lake Michigan today!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Windy Weekend

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the day the horses came to town, and the morning began bitterly cold, with driving rain and gale-force winds. The horses came, anyway, all the way up from Mesick. That's Jade next to the trailer, with Pearl in the foreground.

These beautiful Percherons came to grace the streets of Northport from the stables of Abraham's Carriage Service.

As far as I'm concerned, there is no perfume the equal of the smell of horses and no sound sweeter than the clopping of their hooves and jingling of their harness. Bertie, the driver, told me she would start out and go as long as the weather permitted. As things turned out, the rain dried up, and the wagon made many tours through the village. Rather than leaving early, Bertie was even persuaded to make one last tour after the official four o'clock ending time. Here they are starting out in the cold morning--but don't they look fine?

The sun showed its welcome face on Sunday (in time for the second day of Haunted Lighthouse), but many strollers in the village of Northport were looking downward rather than up into the bright fall leaves. Here's part of the gang visiting our house for the weekend, after breakfast at the North End and a visit to the Wright Gallery, hanging their heads over the bridge next to Barb's Bakery, eyes on Northport Creek below.

What could be going on? If you live Up North, you probably already know. If you live away from the lakeshore, the answer lies in the photos below: we were all watching salmon, driven by blind instinct, thrashing and struggling to make their way upstream.

The lives of wild fish seem as different from the lives of domesticated draft animals as if the two species evolved on different planets. But both are beautiful in movement, and something tells me that fish and horses both appreciate the sun's rays.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Speech I Should Have Given

On October 7, author Jerry Dennis and artist Glenn Wolff came to Dog Ears Books for the Leelanau County launch of Jerry’s ninth book, The Windward Shore: A Winter on the Great Lakes. I decided almost at the last minute to combine the book signing with a birthday celebration for Dog Ears. (The bookstore turned 18 on July 4, but there was no time to stop for a bookstore birthday party in the middle of summer.) After the event, Jerry asked if I was pleased, and I realized I was only disappointed in myself, for not giving a gracious speech introducing my guests of honor and reflecting briefly on my bookstore’s long life. So here it is now, the speech I should have given.
Welcome, friends, on one of the most beautiful fall afternoons ever in northern Michigan, and thank you for joining us indoors on this occasion. I know it isn’t easy to come inside on a day like today! I do, however, offer you the best of reasons, and that is to welcome as guests to Dog Ears Books author Jerry Dennis and artist Glenn Wolff from Traverse City. Our primary reason for gathering here today is to celebrate, honor and welcome Jerry’s ninth book, The Windward Shore: A Winter on the Great Lakes, illustrated by Glenn Wolff. Jerry and Glenn will be happy to sign books for you, with personal inscriptions if you like, and we also have prints of Glenn’s illustrations on hand available for purchase. It is so exciting to have them here! Three cheers for Jerry Dennis and Glenn Wolff!

A second cause for celebration is that Dog Ears Books turned 18 years old this past summer. I’d like Dog Ears to get to 20 years and beyond, but why wait to celebrate? We’re here now! And as the man says, “Life is uncertain--have dessert first!” I hope you will have a generous piece of birthday cake--chocolate or coconut or both--made by David Chrobak of the Old Mill Pond Inn.

People ask me all the time what I think about the future of books and bookselling, but no one knows the future ahead of time. Will electronic reading devices kill books? Somehow I doubt it. Will Internet selling kill bookstores? I don’t think so. But then, on this lovely October day in 2011, no one knows what future years will bring.

When newspapers first appeared in the 1600s, London booksellers feared that newspapers would put them out of business. It didn’t happen. When television took over the United States in the 1950s, many people predicted the end of reading. That end didn’t come about.

I could go on for a long time about printed, bound books and e-readers, but this is a party, and we have guests of honor, and I want you to spend the evening visiting with them. I do want to say that eighteen years ago, in the little shed down Waukazoo Street next to Woody’s Settling Inn--the shed now completely gone, as Woody’s is also completely gone—I never imagined, in my wildest dreams, that Dog Ears would grow and flourish as it has. I never imagined having as guests in my bookstore writers and artists of the stature of Jerry Dennis and Glenn Wolff and others I have had this year and in recent years. The generosity of creative people overwhelms me, and the public response gratifies me.

And as I thank you all for being here today and thank Jerry and Glenn for coming to Northport, there are two other people who deserve very special thanks. One is my husband, artist David Grath. He has been, in his own words, a “donkey for literature” for all the years Dog Ears Books has been in existence. He has schlepped and hammered and advised on decor and arrangement and done whatever needed to be done. This bookstore would never have been born in the first place without his “perfervid imagination” and hard work. So three cheers for David!

The other angel of Dog Ears Books, for well over a decade now, is Bruce Balas. Bruce began volunteering in the bookstore back on the corner of Mill and Nagonaba. He and my son, Ian, helped David and me move from the corner into 102 Nagonaba, now the home of Dolls and More. He is a reader, a book collector, a tireless and unfailingly cheerful assistant, and without him I would never have a day off all summer long. As David always says, “What would we do without Bruce?” So three cheers for Bruce Balas!

Steve Jobs wasn’t around to give me advice 18 years ago, but somehow I must have intuited the advice he would have given, which boils down to “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” Bookselling has not given me wealth, but it has given me a very rich and rewarding life. Dog Ears Books has been very, very good to me.

Thank you all again for being here.

This was to be my one-thousandth post of Books in Northport, but for some reason the number is now at 999. Whatever! I am calling this Post #1000 and give thanks to anyone reading it for visiting. Thanks for regular followers for reading and commenting since 2007. Sarah would thank you, too, if she knew how. If she had the concept. If she had a clue.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

If I Were a Luddite, Would I Be Blogging?

Someone else said it, so I don’t have to. It seems that kids who see parents reading bound, printed books see them as doing something different from reading on a screen. The kids respond differently, too. This does kind of shoot a hole in my poster idea: “READING IS NOT A SPECTATOR SPORT.” Maybe it is, after all.

But there are reasons to be online and good stuff to read, watch and listen to. For example, if you haven’t watched and listened to the Steve Jobs commencement speech video yet, get with it. How many videos do I watch online a year? Fewer than a dozen, I assure you, but this one is top of my recommendation list.

Getting back to books, though, here’s what absorbed me for an hour or two the other day:

Mary Wollstonecraft and Percy Bysshe Shelley married in 1816 after his first wife, Harriet, died a suicide by drowning. Percy and Harriet had been estranged for two years prior to her death, but Harriet’s suicide took place only after her husband had run away with the 17-year-old Mary.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is famous as the author of classic horror novel, Frankenstein, which appeared in 1818, subtitled The Modern Prometheus. In this story, faithful to the original, young Frankenstein steals not mere fire as in the Greek myth but life itself, cobbling together a monster from purloined body parts stolen from morgues and graveyards and bringing his creation to life with “galvanism” (which Webster’s defines as “a direct current of electricity esp. when produced by chemical action”). Everyone knows what became of Frankenstein’s monster. Here is the story as given in The Reader’s Encyclopedia, by William Rose Benet:
Longing for sympathy and shunned by everyone, the creature ultimately turns to evil and brings dreadful retribution on the student for usurping the Creator’s prerogative, finally destroying him.

But then in 1820 came Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, a drama in which Prometheus is released from the mountain where he was chained by Zeus as a punishment for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to human beings. Reunited with his true love, he is vindicated in having gone against Zeus, and a new Golden Age ensues. Down with the gods, up with the humans! seemed to be Shelley’s message. Quite a different message from that of the myth and of Mary’s story.

Following their marriage, Mary and Percy Shelley lost three infant children before having a daughter who survived. Mary suffered, understandably, from depression. Percy sought consolation with other women. The bloom was off the rose. Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned (an accident, apparently, rather than a suicide) in 1822 while still a young man. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley lived on until 1851.

What would either of them make of today’s experimentation with cloning and genetic engineering? In hindsight, what fate would they think Prometheus deserved? Did Mary come to wish Percy had felt himself more bound (to her), not quite so free to overthrow convention and tradition, once the shoe was on the other foot and the consequences come home to roost?
So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein—more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Leaves of Leaves (Really)

Yes, the leaves are turning in northern Michigan (beautiful color this year!), and I'm still turning the leaves of books, indoors and out, but the other day I turned leaves in a book of trees, appreciating colorful images of leaves on leaves.

An Introduction to Trees, by John Kieran, was published by Hanover House in 1954 and illustrated in beautiful, big, full oolor by Michael H. Bevans.

Too large to be a field guide, this book’s illustrations would not leave identification in doubt. Flowers, seeds, nuts, bark and fall color are all shown.

I love to turn the pages and look at these pictures--then go outside and look at living trees (see previous post).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Couple of Locals Take Time for a Leelanau Color Tour

We couldn’t resist. Not that there isn’t plenty of color between our house and Northport, There's plenty in my own yard and along the driveway and within walking distance of the house.

But in October I am always greedy for more. Monochromatic months lie ahead of us, you know, and now is the time to gorge on color. So after closing my bookstore at 5 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, David and Sarah and I took a long, meandering path that led eventually to Glen Arbor, where we stopped for picnic supplies before turning back northward to stop at Good Harbor beach for our al fresco supper.

What a day! Spectacular! Every modest little corner a blaze of bright hues! This is Fat Tuesday for the Seasonal Soul facing a long winter fast.

Last year’s color, while lovely, was nothing on this year’s. This is one for the record books. But for the really spectacular view, check out Gerry's blog! And if you want a color tour at footpath pace, see my photo blog post.